Amid attempt to limit electoral fraud, Taliban promises attacks
With a week to go until long-delayed parliamentary elections, Awrang Zib Zierak, a 38-year-old labourer in Afghanistan‘s capital city of Kabul, has decided to vote despite concerns about transparency and security.
For Zierak, an election with risks of fraud and security threats is better than no election at all. He believes voting is his right.
“Because of the lack of resources, constant threats from the Taliban and insincerity of our politicians, a fair chance is never given to a sincere person who wants to do some good for the country.
“But we must change the situation ourselves. If we don’t go out and express what we want, we will always be under a forced regime or a foreign invasion,” he told Al Jazeera.
Since campaigning kicked off on September 28, hundreds of banners and posters featuring the candidates have been hanging across the capital and surrounding cities, highlighting their mottos and slogans.
The parliamentary polls were originally set to be held in early 2015 following presidential elections but were delayed to July 7, 2018 and were then pushed to October 20 due to security fears and reforms in voter registration.
I would encourage everyone to vote for young people, because the politicians before them have shown us that they have not done anything but give false hope.
Ismail Ahmadzai, Kabul resident
More than 2,500 people, including 418 are women, are competing for the 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga, Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament.
“I see a lot of young people on the billboards who are campaigning for the elections, most of them are highly educated and good people,” Ismail Ahmadzai, a Kabul resident, told Al Jazeera.
“I would encourage everyone to vote for young people, because the [politicians] before them have shown us that they have not done anything but give false hope.”
To avoid vote rigging, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced on Friday that a total of 22,000 biometric devices had arrived in Kabul to be used across the country, including 760 warring districts.
“The use of the biometric devices is very simple. Anyone who has used a smartphone can use it,” IEC spokesman Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi told Al Jazeera.
“The devices will help verify voter identities by comparing their fingerprints to facial images and producing a unique barcode for each voter that will massively help in weeding out duplicates.”
Ibrahimi said at least 8.8 million people have registered so far.
“It was 9.5 million, but when we got rid of the duplicates, those who were underaged or who did not have proper documentation, it came out to 8.8 million. We disqualified more than 600,000 people.”
But with the elections scheduled for October 20, electoral watchdog organisations, candidates and voters expressed concerns, saying the amount of time to prepare for biometric voter verification was limited.
The delivery of the 19,400 devices was delayed for days and later had to be dispatched to other provinces to support 21,000 polling stations.
“The biggest challenge is time and security at the moment. We don’t know how and when people will be trained and assisted in using this technology,” Mohammed Amiri, an activist based in Kabul, told Al Jazeera.
“The government has not initiated the awareness programmes on how to use the biometric system … many people are still not aware of it.”
Besides lingering concerns over technical and logistical issues, the Taliban, Afghanistan’s largest armed group that was toppled from power by US-led invasion in 2001, issued a statement on Monday saying that its fighters will target government security forces to disrupt the elections.
“People who are trying to help in holding this process successfully by providing security should be targeted and no stone should be left unturned for the prevention and failure [of the election],” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in the statement.
Back in Kabul, despite the pessimism, security challenges and unpreparedness, Awrang Zib Zierak, the labourer, says he will take the opportunity to vote for the candidate who has promised to work for education and jobs in the country.
“I want to make sure I have played a role in any kind of development in this country,” he said.
With reporting by Mohsin Zaman in Kabul, Afghanistan